Summer is slipping away fast, and by the time you read this, one of summer’s great institutions will be on its way out for another year.
Vacation Bible School.
As a kid, I never cared much for Vacation Bible School. As far as I was concerned it was just a midsummer reminder of what regular school was like and why we did not want to go back in the fall.
Our mothers sent us, as much to get us out of the house as to expose us to religion. And for a week my friends and I were tutored by elderly church ladies, determined to cram as much “Bible” into us as they could in the time the Lord had given them.
Two memories stand out.
The first was when our teacher told the class that the next day there would be a prize for whoever learned “Luke, 12th Chapter, 22nd through the 30th verse,”
Which I dutifully did.
And the next day, when she asked who learned it, I raised my hand.
“Proceed,” she said.
“Luke, 12th Chapter, 22nd through the 30th verse,” I said.
And sat down.
“Well?” She said.
“Well what?” I said.
And as Billy (who would one day be a preacher) rose and began to recite about considering the lilies of the field I realized that she wanted us to learn what was in it, not where it was.
How was I to know?
Another time another Billy (the one who didn’t become a preacher) was asked his favorite Bible verse and that Billy (whose idea of a good time was looking up dirty words in the dictionary) came back with “Behold, thou art fair, my love” from the Song of Solomon.
That was as far as he got. I didn’t know an old woman could move so fast and snatch so hard.
Consequently, about all Vacation Bible School taught me was that, if not carefully controlled, children and Bible study can be a volatile combination.
Despite this inherent danger, VBS continues and today it is a well-organized mix of religion, fun, food, and free-form frolicking.
One year for VBS my church recreated an ancient Jewish market place, complete with craftsmen, a synagogue, a storyteller, a top-of-the-line spice shop, a jeweler, a beggar, and of course, a tax collector.
Adults played all these parts. The children played the townsfolk.
My wife volunteered me to play the tax collector, so I went about levying taxes on all sorts of things. A tribal tax – you’re in a tribe, you pay a tax. A synagogue tax – you attend, you pay. A begging tax – the beggar was doing pretty well so I took my cut.
The kids responded pretty much like adults respond to the IRS today.
Some contributed out of a sense of duty or obligation.
Some contributed because they were afraid what might happen if they didn’t.
And like grownups, none were particularly happy doing it.
So they came with their little purses full of shekels – painted stones.
And as they crowded around me, holding out their money in their grubby little fists, one among them wedged through the crowd, got within striking distance, and kicked me.
Kicked the tax collector.
Just like grownups would like to do.
Harvey H. (Hardy) Jackson is Professor Emeritus of History at Jacksonville State University. He can be reached at email@example.com.
In this column, I wanted to share some of the more popular Social Security questions I receive and my answers.
My wife didn’t work enough to earn 40 credits to qualify for Social Security retirement benefits. Can she qualify on my record?
Even if your spouse has never worked under Social Security, she can, at full retirement age, receive a benefit equal to one-half of your full retirement amount. Your wife is eligible for reduced spouse’s benefits as early as age 62, as long as you are already receiving benefits. For more information, visit www.socialsecurity.gov/retire.
Do I have to give my Social Security number whenever I’m asked?
Giving your Social Security number is voluntary. If requested, you should ask why the person asking needs your Social Security number, how it will be used, what law requires you to give your number, and what the consequences are if you refuse. The answers to these questions can help you decide whether to give your Social Security number. However, the decision is yours. Keep in mind that requestors might not provide you their services if you refuse to provide your Social Security number. For more information, visit www.socialsecurity.gov/pubs to read or print our publication, Your Social Security Number And Card.
What is the earliest age I can begin receiving Social Security retirement benefits?
The earliest age you can begin receiving Social Security retirement benefits is age 62. If you decide to receive benefits before your full retirement age, which for most people is age 66 or 67, you will receive a reduced benefit. Keep in mind you will not be able to receive Medicare coverage until age 65, even if you decide to retire at an earlier age. For more information, go to www.socialsecurity.gov/retire.
Is there a time limit on how long I can receive Social Security disability benefits?
Your disability benefits will continue as long as your medical condition has not improved and you cannot work. Social Security will periodically review your case to determine whether you continue to be eligible. If you are still receiving disability benefits when you reach your full retirement age, your disability benefits will automatically be converted to retirement benefits. Learn more about disability benefits at www.socialsecurity.gov/disability.
Why is there a five-month waiting period for Social Security disability benefits?
The law states Social Security disability benefits can be paid only after you have been disabled continuously throughout a period of five full calendar months. Social Security disability benefits begin with the sixth full month after the date your disability began. You are not able to receive benefits for any month during the waiting period. Learn more at our website: www.socialsecurity.gov/disability.
State Sen. Greg Reed, a Republican from Jasper, and state Rep. April Weaver, a Republican from Alabaster, were honored as legislators of the year by the Alabama Rural Electric Association of Cooperatives. AREA presented the awards at its summer conference in July.
Also speaking to co-op managers and board members at the conference were Dr. Tony Frazier, Alabama’s veterinarian, who talked about avian flu concerns, and Dr. Keith Blackwell, associate professor of meteorology at the University of South Alabama, who talked about hurricane forecasts.
Alabama Restaurant Week, which puts the spotlight on locally owned and operated restaurants, will once again unite the state’s diverse range of cuisine. Participating restaurants offer prix fixe, two-course lunch and/or three-course dinner offerings at an attractive price. No coupons are necessary; just ask for an Alabama Restaurant Week meal at a participating restaurant during the promotion time period. Go to www.alabamarestaurantweek.com to find participating restaurants.
Fyffe embraces its unusual UFO past
The little DeKalb County town of Fyffe drew a lot of media attention in February 1989, when dozens of people (including some in law enforcement) reported seeing strange lights and shapes in the sky. To celebrate, the town now puts on the annual Fyffe UFO Days (though the organizers say the acronym stands for “Unforgettable Family Outing.”) Hot air balloons are the only flying objects these days, and the event features arts and crafts, children’s activities, a 5K race, food vendors, live entertainment and more at Fyffe Town Park at Graves Street. Call 256-623-7298 or find the event’s page on Facebook.
Five structures make endangered sites list
The annual Places in Peril list highlights imperiled places of historical and architectural significance in the state. The 2015 list, compiled by the Alabama Trust for Historic Preservation, brings public attention and support to the preservation of these important pieces of the state’s heritage. For more information, visit www.alabamatrust.info.
The Braxton Bragg Comer Bridge in Scottsboro is scheduled for demolition once it is replaced later this year.
The Montgomery Theatre Building, also known as the Webber Building, in downtown Montgomery suffered a collapse in 2014.
Fast moving summer storms can cause intermittent power outages. When that happens, here are a few tips from the American Red Cross: Keep refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible; check on your neighbors, especially if they’re elderly or infirm; and if you have a portable generator, know how to operate it properly.
Who doesn’t love dessert? Whether you prefer a thick, icing-covered chunk of cake, a warm wedge of pie or a scoop of frosty ice cream, these sugary sensations are the perfect punctuation points to end any meal. Calm your craving for the sweet life and cap your dining out adventures with some of Alabama’s best confectionary creations.
Our Place, Wetumpka
Dense, rich and subtly sweet, this old-fashioned after-dinner indulgence is done simply and done right at this charming intimate restaurant in downtown. 334-567-8778
Peach Ice Cream
Peach Park, Clanton
Chilton County’s prized peaches find their perfect expression in the light and fresh ice cream created at Peach Park. It’s laced with a barely-there sugary sweet but bursting with bright, just-picked peach flavor. 205-755-2065
Chocolate Chip Peanut Butter Pie
Original Oyster House, Gulf Shores
There are few flavors that play as well together as milk chocolate and peanut butter, and when the Original Oyster House marries the happy couple (with a shot of Kahlua to keep ‘em cozy) and places them in a crushed-cookie pie shell, the match reaches must-eat status. originaloysterhouse.com
Coffee Well, Gadsden
Coconut can evoke strong reactions; most folks either love it or hate it. If you fall into the “love it” camp, the coconut cake at this local gathering spot is your dream come true. Moist, milky white cake with a hint of the tropical treat’s taste is layered with thick sour cream icing and generously dusted with shredded coconut. thecoffeewell.net
Three Georges, Mobile
This cute candy shop in downtown Mobile has been handcrafting bites of delight, including fudge and its Heavenly Hash, a concoction of marshmallows and pecans smothered in chocolate, for more than 90 years. 3georges.com
Black Bottom Pie
Gaines Ridge Dinner Club, Camden
Owner Betty Kennedy makes her restaurant’s Black Bottom Pie the same way her mom did, infusing a heavy egg custard with rum and resting it on a dark-chocolate coated gingersnap crust before blanketing it all with whipped cream. wilcoxwebworks.com/gr/
Combine all ingredients except ginger ale, pineapple spears and cherries. Stir. Add ginger ale just before serving. Pour cooler into ice filled glasses. Garnish glasses with a pineapple spear and a maraschino cherry.
Brabson House Mint Tea
Rinds of 3 lemons
6 cups water
2 cups sugar
11/2 teaspoons each almond and vanilla extract
Juice of 3 lemons
4 cups water
4 family size teabags
2 46-ounce cans pineapple juice
Fresh mint to taste
Combine lemon rinds, 6 cups water and sugar in saucepan. Boil for 5 minutes; discard lemon rinds. Add flavorings and lemon juice. Bring 4 cups water to a boil in saucepan; remove from heat. Add teabags. Steep for several minutes; discard teabags. Add to the sugar syrup. Stir in pineapple juice. Pour into two 1-gallon containers. Chill until serving time. Serve in glasses over ice; add mint. Variation: Add ginger ale to taste to serve as a punch. Yield: 24 servings.
Ernestine Pace, North Alabama EC
2 packages Kool-Aid (any flavor)
3 cups sugar
2 cups hot water
3 quarts water
½ cup lemon juice
46 oz. can pineapple juice
Mix dry ingredients. Add hot water, then add remaining liquid ingredients. Chill.
Ginger Corbett, Tallapoosa River EC
2 1/2 cups water
2/3 cup fresh lemon juice (3 large lemons)
2/3 cup sugar
2 cups fresh orange juice (6-8 oranges)
1 small watermelon
Garnish: lime wedges
Bring first 3 ingredients to a boil in a saucepan; boil 3 minutes. Cool completely, and stir in orange juice. Peel, seed and cube watermelon. Process cubed watermelon in a blender until smooth. Pour through a wire-mesh strainer into a bowl, reserving 3 cups juice; discard watermelon pulp. Stir together watermelon juice and sugar mixture; chill thoroughly. Serve over crushed ice. Garnish, if desired. Yield: 8 cups.
Becky Terry, Joe Wheeler EMC
Buzz’s Sports Drink
2/3 cup sparking water
1/3 cup orange juice Ice cubes
Add ice cubes to a glass. Pour sparking water and orange juice over ice. Stir to mix. (For a slightly sweeter taste add 2 extra tablespoons of orange juice.) Great drink for quenching a thirst!
Sherry Baldone, Coosa Valley EC
Baptist Shower Punch
Cool all liquids listed:
2 2-liter bottles of lemon lime soda
1 package lemonade flavored Kool-Aid, with 1 cup sugar and 1/2 gallon water added
1 small can crushed pineapple with juice
1/2 gallon block lime sherbet
Mix all ingredients except sherbet together in punch bowl. At last minute, float the sherbet and allow to melt briefly. Refreshing and non-alcoholic for the ladies.
Becky Chappelle, Cullman EC
1 1/2 cups lemon juice
1/4 cup sugar
5 cups water
1 cup fresh pineapple juice
Juice of 1 lime
Combine water and sugar until dissolved over medium heat. Remove from heat and cool. In 2-quart pitcher combine lemon juice, pineapple juice and lime juice. Pour cooled water/sugar mixture into pitcher, mix well and serve.
Kellanee Lawley,Coosa Valley EC
Berry Berry Protein Smoothie
2 scoops Total Soy Meal Replacement
1 cup of milk
1 cup of ice
1/2 cup of frozen strawberries
1/2 cup of blueberries (fresh or frozen)
Put all ingredients in blender and mix well. Makes 3 cups or 3 servings.
Julia Faith Pritchett, Baldwin EMC
6 cups cold water
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup of sweetened condensed milk
Mix water and sugar together until sugar is dissolved. Put in the fridge to chill until ready to use. Wash the limes with soap and water. Peel the limes, leaving some pieces of the skin on. Cut the ends off the limes (DO NOT MISS THIS STEP!) and then cut them into eighths. Place half of the limes and half of the sugar water in your blender and pulse 5 times. Strain through a fine mesh strainer into the pitcher you are going to serve it in. Discard the pulp. Repeat with the second half of your limes and sugar water. Mix in the sweetened condensed milk. Serve over lots of ice.
Aline Smith, Baldwin EMC
4 cups cranberry-grape juice
1 cup orange juice
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1 pear, diced
1 apple, diced
3 cups carbonated lemon-lime soda
In a large pitcher, combine cranberry-grape juice, orange juice, fresh lemon juice, diced pear, and diced apple. Refrigerate for a least 2 hours. Just before serving, stir in the lemon-lime soda and some ice. This is not overly sweet, just the right blend of ingredients.
Today’s lesson: Southern cooking at Red’s Little Schoolhouse
By Jennifer Kornegay
It’s time to go to school. Yes, it’s summer. Sure, you completed your courses and graduated already. But, when it comes to good ol’ Southern cooking, we all have a thing or two we could stand to learn, and the tasty classics at Red’s Little Schoolhouse in Grady will teach you all you need to know.
You’ll do your culinary classwork in a rustic, red, early 1900s building (originally a one-room school) that sits at the crossing of two county roads in rural Central Alabama. The day’s lesson is written on a large chalkboard, where you can read the variety of dishes that are on the ever-changing buffet and prepare for what your studies will include.
Your teacher is owner Debbie Deese, and she’s got the qualifications. She received her instruction from the most prestigious institutions — her mother’s and her grandmother’s kitchens. Oh, and she was an actual schoolteacher, too.
“I grew up out here, and when this building came for sale, my dad bought it and encouraged me turn it into a furniture store,” she said.
“I told him I wanted to open a restaurant, but he didn’t think it was a good idea since we’re kinda in the middle of nowhere,” she said.
It’s a fact. Red’s isn’t really near anywhere else you probably need to go, but Debbie stuck to her guns, doing a trial run by offering up the land around the building to area folks for Saturday yard sales. “I put up signs saying people could come and set up stuff to sell for free, and then I made some batches of camp stew and asked my dad to make some barbecue to sell to the crowds,” she said.
Her plan was a success. After just a few weekends, Debbie was running out of her food. “We knew it would work then,” she said.
Red’s Little Schoolhouse opened in May 1985, named for her dad Red and as a reference to space’s previous purpose. That June, a food critic from The Montgomery Advertiser gave the place a visit and liked what he ate. His glowing review let others know Red’s was an A+ place to dine, and it’s stayed packed ever since.
Throngs hungry for the way things used to be daily descend on Red’s and rarely leave disappointed. You can order items like hamburger steak and sandwiches off a menu, but most line up on both sides of a long buffet and load their plates with things like fried chicken, watermelon, lima beans, dressing, pulled pork slow cooked in a pit out back, squash casserole, fixins for green salads and house-made dressings. The options are always different, but with its abundant assortment of busting-out-of-the-serving-pan-seams Southern staples, the spread calls to mind the tables of plenty found at church dinner-on-the-grounds gatherings and family reunions.
Everything is scratch-made; often veggies were picked by Debbie’s own hands as late as the morning before they end up on the chalkboard menu list. If she didn’t harvest them, they came from a nearby farm.
While Debbie admits the restaurant business can be tough — long days and hard work are her routine — she stays at it because, “I love cooking and love people,” she said. And it’s always been a family labor built on that love. “We lost my mom 10 years ago, but she cooked for us; most of the casseroles we still serve are her recipes,” Debbie said. Her dad comes every morning and helps out.
Ask a sampling of guests what they like most, and you’ll get a range of answers as wide as the available selections, but the one item Red’s devotees cannot do without is the fried cornbread. Warm and waiting for you at the end of the buffet, the little rusty colored, oval discs are simple pleasures, just cornmeal and buttermilk seasoned with a dash of salt and quick pan-fried in a giant cast iron skillet.
“It’s really our customers’ favorite thing, and mine too,” Debbie said. “We now cater a good bit, and we fry it up onsite so it’s hot. If we ever showed up and didn’t have it, we’d for sure get sent back to get it.”
Jennifer Kornegay is the author of a new children’s book, “The Alabama Adventures of Walter and Wimbly: Two Marmalade Cats on a Mission.” She travels to an out-of-the way restaurant destination in Alabama every month. She may be reached for comment at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Red’s Little School House
20 Gardner Rd
Grady, AL 36036
Bringing our most popular seafood from the ocean to the plate
By John N. Felsher
Storms, pollution, soaring fuel prices – shrimpers must contend with these factors and many more to bring succulent crustaceans to market. But most would rather do nothing else.
“Our family has been here since the early 1700s,” says Greg Ladnier, owner and president of Sea Pearl Seafood in Bayou La Batre. “We’ve always been involved in seafood. I started shrimping with my uncle when I was 10. I ran a boat for a year before I went to college.”
In 2014, the state licensed 735 commercial shrimp boats, compared to 697 for 2009, the year before the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Smaller “ice boats” with a captain and a deckhand go out for a day or two. They put their catch on ice and return to port before the ice melts.
Larger boats carry equipment to freeze their catch. They may stay out 30 to 50 days, depending on how long it takes to fill their holds with shrimp or how much fuel and supplies they can carry. A big offshore boat might carry a captain and a crew of four to six.
“Larger boats travel all over the Gulf to chase shrimp,” says Chris Blankenship, director of the Alabama Marine Resources Division on Dauphin Island. “They might start out in Alabama, but when Texas or Louisiana waters open to shrimping, that’s where they go. Beginning in 2016, shrimping will close in all inside waters from May 1 through June 1. Previously, we opened shrimp seasons when most shrimp reached the 68 shrimp per pound size.”
In addition, the state licensed 958 recreational shrimpers in 2014, Blankenship says. Recreational shrimpers catch shrimp for their own consumption and cannot sell them. By Alabama law, they can only use a trawl 16 feet long or less. They can only keep one five-gallon bucket of shrimp per person per day.
Shrimpers mainly catch two species – brown and white shrimp. Both live in the marshes and estuaries and migrate to the Gulf to spawn. Recently named the official crustacean of Alabama, brown shrimp spawn in the winter. White shrimp spawn in early summer.
“After shrimp spawn offshore, the larvae float with the tides and come back into the bay and estuaries,” Blankenship says. “Marsh grass and little bayous are vital to shrimp development. They need places to hide because everything likes to eat a shrimp. In the marshes, shrimp grow until they are large enough to move out to the Gulf and start the cycle all over again.”
When a loaded shrimp boat docks at a processing plant, the captain sells the catch. Larger shrimp bring in more money per pound. With money in hand, the boat captain pays the crew and resupplies the vessel for the next trip out.
“Shrimp landings have been down for a few years, but the value is increasing,” Blankenship says. “In 2014, Alabama shrimpers landed 17.6 million pounds with a total dockside value of $58 million. In 2009, before the oil spill, they landed nearly 22 million pounds valued at about $32.5 million.”
After buying the shrimp, the processor prepares the crustaceans for human consumption. Processors freeze much of the catch in 5-pound blocks for shipping to restaurants all over the country.
“If the boat brings the shrimp in with the heads on, we can take the heads off or sell them heads-on,” Ladnier says. “We run some through peeling machines and can sell them either deveined or with the veins in them. At that stage, we can freeze them in nitrogen with an individual quick frozen system or cook them.”
Before shrimp can go to restaurants, inspectors check them for bacteria, chemicals, microbes and other things. After the 2010 oil spill, checking for petroleum contamination became more important.
“Seafood coming out of the Gulf has always been excellent quality,” says Brett Hall, deputy commissioner of the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries. “We’ve never had an incident when Gulf shellfish has not passed inspection. For the last five years, the seafood has been outstanding.”
According to the Alabama Seafood Marketing Commission, Gulf Coast fishermen catch more than 69 percent of the shrimp landed in the United States. Unfortunately, only a small percentage of shrimp sold in American restaurants come from American waters. Most shrimp sold in restaurants comes from Asia.
“Probably about 93 percent of the shrimp sold in the United States comes from overseas,” Blankenship explains. “The Alabama shrimping industry is not as big as it was two decades ago, but it will always be around.”
Shrimp remains the most popular seafood sold in the United States. The average American eats about 4.1 pounds of shrimp per year, but Gulf Coast consumers may skew that number. Chefs can prepare the delicious morsels in infinite ways or add shrimp to any delectable concoction.
John N. Felsher is a freelance writer and photographer who lives in Semmes, Ala. He co-hosts a weekly outdoors show that is syndicated to stations in Alabama. For more on the show, see www.gdomag.com. Contact him through his website at www.JohnNFelsher.com
The nights this summer have seemed especially bright, maybe because we’ve had an abundance of fireflies at our house — or maybe because July provided us with a “blue moon,” one of those times when we enjoyed two full moons in a single month. Regardless of the reasons, sitting outside and enjoying the nighttime landscape and the cooler nighttime temperatures has become a favorite evening activity at our house, an experience that any of us could enhance by establishing a moon garden.
Moon gardens, also known as evening, night and white gardens, have been planted for eons as spaces of worship, meditate and even romance. They’ve enjoyed a renewed popularity in recent years as folks with day jobs have adopted them to better enjoy their gardens in the evenings.
Establishing a moon garden is easy. All you need are plants that have light-reflecting qualities, such as white or pale-colored blooms or bark and silvery or variegated foliage. The list of those plants is extensive and includes annual and perennial flowering plants as well as grasses, shrubs, vines and trees.
Among the flowering options are moonflowers (a type of morning glory), angel’s and devil’s trumpets, sweet alyssum, daisies and four o’clocks. Many of these night-blooming plants emit a heady fragrance that can be enjoyed on the nighttime breeze, plus they benefit the ecosystem by providing pollen and nectar for nocturnal insects and animals.
Other plants that fit well in a moon garden are those with silver, gray or variegated foliage, including hostas, lamb’s ears, heuchera, lavender and many ornamental grasses, as well as trees and shrubs that have pale bark or silvery leaves, such as crape myrtles, variegated Euonymus, dogwoods, spruces and birches.
Moon gardens can be established in the landscape or simply created using containers placed on a patio or in the yard. In order to capture the best moonlight, locate your moon garden in a spot that is open enough to let the moonbeams shine on your plants. You can also establish a moon garden that capitalizes on the last rays of the day by facing the plantings west toward the setting sun. Or why not establish several dusk-into-dark garden areas in the yard to capture all angles of the sun and moon?
To further enhance a moon garden, adorn it with white or pale grey stepping stones or gravel, white fences, trellises and benches and light-colored statuary, birdbaths and pots. You can also use artificial lighting, such as strategically placed spotlights, strings of fairy lights or decorative torches to illuminate the garden space when the moon is being shy. Ponds, birdbaths, fountains and other water features that reflect light or add soothing sounds to the night air are also lovely additions to a moon garden.
If you’re feeling the pull of the moon in your own yard, learn more about moon gardening in such books as The Evening Garden: Flowers and Fragrance from Dusk till Dawn by Peter Loewer or Evening Gardens by Cathy Wilkinson Barash as well as online. If you get started now, you can have a moon garden ready for our next full moon on Aug. 29.
AUGUST Garden Tips
Plant seeds of cool-season flowers such as snapdragons, dianthus, pansies, calendulas and other cool-season flowers in flats or in the garden for mid-to-late fall bloom.
Be on the lookout for seed and bulb catalogues, which should be arriving soon.
Plant fall vegetables, such as cabbage, collards and broccoli.
Plant a winter cover crop in your garden as it finishes its growing season.
Keep an eye out for insects and disease on all ornamental and vegetable plants and treat for problems before they get out of hand.
Prune blackberry canes.
Continue to mow and water lawns as needed.
Divide irises and other perennials that have become overcrowded.
Keep fresh water in birdbaths and keep birdfeeders full.
Continue to use mosquito repellant and sunscreen when you’re out in the yard or garden.
Homeowners can bring butterflies back to Alabama gardens
Story and Photos by Carolyn Tomlin
Driving down an off-the-beaten path in north Alabama, a driver swerved and stopped immediately in front of me. After hitting my brakes, I realized it was my fault. I should have read her bumper sticker, which stated: I BRAKE FOR BUTTERFLIES.
Ranging in colors from yellow, black, blue, and shades in between, you see them on country roads, in suburban gardens and sunny nature centers. Often, I see them near the small towns of Tuscumbia and Muscle Shoals. Driving on the back roads, butterflies (Lepidoptera) flutter above Queen Anne’s lace, black-eyed Susan and purple coneflowers that grow along the roadside. Regardless of how often they appear, one never tires of their beauty. These marvels of nature fly by day and rest with their wings erect.
Alabama has a diverse geographical terrain. From the hills of north Alabama to the sunny Gulf Coast area, this varied landscape supports many plants native to the Heart of Dixie.
Grow both hosts and nectar plants
The ideal way to attract butterflies, says Carol Lovell-Saas, director of the Biophilia Nature Center in Elberta, “is to provide both host and nectar plants. For example, monarchs need milkweeds (any plant in the genus Asclepias), but every butterfly species has a plant or group of plants that it specifically needs for its caterpillars to eat. Zebra swallowtails only lay their eggs on paw paw trees. Gulf fritillaries prefer passion vine. Long-tailed skippers choose native wisteria and other bean family relatives.”
Amanda Maples, director of the Purdy Butterfly Conservatory in Huntsville, says the monarchs need our help for more host plants. Its primary host plant, the common milkweed, doesn’t die back in the deep South and can develop a disease that harms the butterfly. Gardeners should cut back their milkweed each year to minimize the risk of disease.
Nectar plants that grow well in the state include those above and native honeysuckle, milkweed, dwarf zinnia, lantana, Mexican sunflower, blazing star, Joe-Pye weed and phlox.
Often wildlife enthusiasts ask: How do I find out the best host and nectar plants that attract butterflies? Lovell-Saas suggest you start with your local Extension System, websites for your local universities or colleges, and search for local clubs or interest groups who focus on botany, wildflowers, butterfly gardening, or other nature-related clubs. Check Lovell-Saas’ website at www.biophilia.net and www.floraofalabama.org for more tips on butterfly gardening.
Aside from providing host and nectar producing plants, there are additional concerns Alabama gardeners can control. Maples suggests filling birdbaths with moist sand. “If a butterfly tries to drink water from a birdbath and accidently falls in, they drown. Place saucers of moist sand or clean water daily around your plants. Smooth rocks or stone also provide a warm resting place.”
Any ideas for over-ripe fruit? Instead of discarding, slice bananas or apples and offer these tidbits for munching. Butterflies not only receive moisture, but the fruit provides energy.
“A common problem affecting butterflies and non-harmful pests are chemicals and pesticides used to control weeds and insects,” Maples says. “In my garden, I use full-strength white vinegar to manage grass and weeds near nectar producing flowers. This will not eradicate tough foliage, but will help control without the use of dangerous ingredients.
“And if my neighbors are using chemicals, I suggest they try vinegar first.”
Alabamians value the butterfly—especially with the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, the official state butterfly, and the Monarch, the state insect. It’s up to Alabama’s citizens to provide both host and nectar plants and to ensure our state preserves and protects this elusive creature.
New book recounts political tales, as told by an insider
By John Brightman Brock
Former state Rep. Steve Flowers still takes afternoon walks along Orange Street in Troy, where he threw The Troy Messenger onto front porches in 1963.
He could throw 115 newspapers from his bicycle — something he was proud of. Then one day he was approached by an Alabama legislator in Troy who encouraged him to aim higher — at politics.
“I was 12 and he was 72, and we became best friends,” Flowers says of state Rep. Gardner Bassett. “He liked that I already loved politics. We would go to see the highway director about roads, and to the agriculture commissioner’s office. During the legislative session, Mr. Gardner Bassett would show me why he was voting.”
So began Bassett’s coaching of young Flowers to become a page in the Legislature. It was the same political route another boy from neighboring Barbour County used to ultimately become the most renowned politician in the history of Alabama — George Wallace. Flowers was happy to follow his lead.
“Finish your paper route. I have a special trip,” Bassett told Flowers one day. “Where we going?” Flowers asked. “Going to see the governor,” said Bassett, who was soon telling Wallace, then in his first term, “This is my little buddy, and he is going to follow me in my House seat.”
And he did.
Politics and the media
After serving as a page through his high school years, Flowers became a member of the Alabama House in 1982, was voted the Most Ethical Member of the House in 1988, and four years later was voted the most Outstanding Member of the House. He kept a perfect attendance record in his 16 years as a legislator, including four as a House leader for Wallace. Yet he opted not to seek re-election in 1998.
Flowers chose instead to combine politics with his love of down-home Alabamians, where his journey began. “The local papers have a niche,” he said in a telephone interview from his Troy home. “I am rural and small town Alabama’s conduit to the capital. They trust me.”
His perspective, “Inside the Statehouse with Steve Flowers,” is published as a weekly syndicated political column in The Troy Messenger and more than 70 other hometown Alabama newspapers, along with radio and public television programs. In April, he was named the University of Alabama’s TV political analyst.
This month, NewSouth Books in Montgomery is publishing Of Goats & Governors, Flowers’ humorous collection of what it takes to run for Alabama’s top political office. The book, subtitled Six Decades of Colorful Alabama Political Stories, recounts the driven personalities and personas of Alabama’s governors, including Wallace and James E. “Big Jim” Folsom Sr., John Patterson, Lurleen Wallace and Albert Brewer, among others. The book is “a gift” to Alabamians, writes historian Ed Bridges in the forward.
‘I just wanted them told’
It took Flowers three years to hand-write this knowledge base for future generations. “We’ve told these stories over the years (in political circles) … and now I just wanted them told. It was 90 percent from memory.” Transcribing his pages was friend Dale Robinson, similar to the continuing task of one of Flowers’ daughters, Virginia, a lawyer in Birmingham, who has deciphered Flowers’ newspaper column since its inception in 2002.
“Alabama and the Deep South, and the whole South, had a unique history,” Flowers says. “Politics was our entertainment. We had no major league sports or big industries. They (politicians) used to come to the courthouse square … like Big Jim Folsom standing 6-foot, 9-inches tall. I wanted to try to paint a picture — like when Big Jim’s band, the Strawberry Pickers, would start singing his election song, ‘Y’all come.’”
Flowers writes in his book: “Back then if you ran for governor, it wasn’t like it is today when you simply get on TV to campaign. There was no TV and the candidate shook hands 12 to 16 hours a day and made 12 strong speeches and met thousands of people. Wallace had done this in 1958 when he ran second to (Gov. John) Patterson and again in 1962 when he won against Big Jim Folsom and Ryan DeGraffenreid. There is no telling how many people Wallace had met and shaken hands with in these two statewide campaigns.”
Alabama’s ultimate politician
Wallace was the ultimate political animal, Flowers says. “Nobody outworked Wallace. He had an amazing memory. It was God-given.”
But not always with children, Flowers says. Working the crowd in his first run for governor, Wallace asked a boy, “How’s your daddy?” The little boy responded, “My daddy’s dead.” Wallace said, “I’m sorry.” Later after shaking many hands, he inadvertently bumped into the boy again, asking, “How’s your daddy?” The boy responded, “Daddy’s still dead.”
In 1982, when Flowers was elected at age 30 to his first term in the Legislature, Wallace asked Flowers, “Steve, how old are you now?”
“I said, ‘Governor, I’m 30 years old, I’m your home county representative. I’m not a page anymore.’ He smiled, took a pull on his ever-present cigar and said, ‘I’ve been governor most all your life.’ I smiled back and said, ‘Governor, you sure have. I guess you’ll always be governor of Alabama.’”
One of Flowers’ favorite stories in his book is about Miss Mittie, who knew where every legislator was at any time. She sat in the Capitol rotunda the entire day, with a black hat and dress. “She was better than a computer,” he said.
“’Miss Mittie, where is So and So?’ people would ask,” Flowers says. “Oh, he’s at the Elite eating supper,” she’d say. Or she would reply, “He’s in the poker game behind the Ways and Means Committee Room.”
In June, more than 300 people crowded into an Architreats program at the Alabama Department of Archives and History in Montgomery to hear these stories and others from Flowers’ book. “Facts are funnier than fiction,” he told the audience.
Of Goats and Governors, published in August 2015, is available through NewSouth Books online for $29.95 at http://newsouthbooks.com/ofgoatsandgovernors (or call 334-834-3556). His column, “Inside the Statehouse with Steve Flowers,” is published in more than 70 newspapers each week, according to his website. He begins a book tour in September, with a signing scheduled for 5-7 p.m. Sept. 10 at the Johnson Art Center in Troy, followed by a signing at noon Sept. 11 at the Troy Library.